Will Merion break Woods’ major drought?
This week’s US Open at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia, will provide Tiger Woods another chance to break his streak of 19 major championships without a victory.
Woods’ last major championship victory came at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines and in that time he has overcome unimaginable personal and career lows to return to the world number one position with seven wins over the past two years.
Merion Golf Club – 9th Hole (Credit: USGA Museum)
A year ago, Woods gave up the 36-hole lead at the US Open at Olympic with a Saturday 75. Then in April at Augusta, one terrible break and that drop cost him the four shots that ultimately separated him from a Masters playoff.
But the major title drought continues to dog him and his recent performance at Memorial will follow him into this championship.
At Memorial, Woods hit 80% of fairways but just 53% of the greens to finish tied for 65th in his title defence, which included at Saturday 79 – his highest at a non-major event.
Merion is a short, compact course and will set up well for Woods’ superb shotmaking as there in no other player currently on tour who shapes the ball as well as Woods.
It should also keep his driver in his bag which has been his undoing at most recent majors as the thick and punishing rough is Merion’s main defence.
In previous years, diminutive Merion has proved to be compelling and demanding for the world’s best players.
At the last US Open here, in 1981, Aussie David Graham shot 7-under 273 over a 6,544-yard course. The average score for the week was 73.166.
This year the USGA have pushed the par 70 layout to 6996 yards or 6397 metres, yet in preparation for the US Open fairways have been narrowed, bunkers moved into the line of play and some greens have been re-shaped.
Woods played a practice round at Merion the week before the Memorial and said he had a plan off the tee.
“If you look at the list of champions, they have all been really good shot makers. They have all been able to shape the golf ball,” said Woods.
“And if you look at the list of champions, they are very disciplined players. You play to certain spots on the greens. You leave yourself certain putts and you deal with it and you move on.”
Adam Scott – who is paired with Woods and Rory McIlroy for the opening two rounds at Merion – also played a practice round on Monday and described the layout as “fiddly,” explaining the many half shots needed to reach the greens and an elusive comfort zone.
“You don’t see where the ball finishes off all your tee shots,” said Scott.
“There’s camber on the fairways and some movement. We will need to play to position and not get caught playing half shots. It will certainly test your game.”
Scott is one of just nine Australians playing this week at Merion.
McIlroy, who has yet to win this year, will be trying to capture a major for the third straight year.
Scott is the current Masters champion and the only player capable of the Grand Slam so many of the world’s eyes will be on the Australian to see how he plays his first Major since his historic victory at Augusta.
Yet it is Woods who is arguably this week’s favourite.
The world number one appears to be healthier and happier than he has been in years.
Furthermore, he has returned to the kind of form approaching the earlier part of his career, when he once held all four major championships at the same time.
Merion might well get the “M” back into Woods’ bag.